by Jay Johansen | May 16, 2013
I was divorced sixteen years ago. Like, I suppose, many divorced people, to this day I wonder what I could have done differently. Recently I had an epiphany: I suddenly understood what was behind one of our on-going arguments.
I was thinking of a similar problem where we managed to understand each other at the time. (Obviously that wasn't good enough, as we still got divorced.)
In one of our marriage counseling sessions, my wife said, "He always minimizes my problems."
I asked what she meant, and she explained, "Any time I tell him about a problem, he starts tellling me how to solve it."
"Well, yeah," I said. "When you tell me about a problem, what do you want me to do if not help you try to solve it?"
At that point she stammerred and stumbled, but eventually she said that when she told me about some problem she had, what she wanted was not for me to suggest solutions, but to sympathize with her difficulty.
I've since heard many people say that this is a classic male/female difference. When a man tells someone about a problem he is trying to deal with, he wants solutions. When a woman tells someone about a problem she is trying to deal with, she wants sympathy.
I can grasp the concept, but it makes no sense to me. Like, if I had a mechanical problem with my car and I told a friend about it, I'd hope and expect that he'd say something like, "Hmm, if you're sure it's getting a spark, maybe the problem is the fuel injectors. You could test that by ..." I wouldn't want him to say, "Yes, Chevy's are tricky all right. That's a real tough one you've got there." It might be that he has no ideas and that's all he can say, but if so I'd be disappointed that he wasn't able to help. But apparently when a woman tells a friend about a problem, that's what she wants.
I suppose that from her point of view, I was saying that this problem that she couldn't solve would be easily disposed of if she just did X, Y, and Z. I guess that could sound like saying that she was too dumb to see the obvious solution.
Well, now I know. If I ever get married again, I'll have to keep that in mind.
So I got to rethinking another issue that came up often. My wife would tell me about some trivial difficulty she had had with a store. They had short-changed her fifty cents or a $2 item was defective or some such. And then she would tell me that she wanted me to go to the store and yell and scream and demand they fix whatever. And I'd always say, For $2? Just forget it, it's not worth worrying about. If the place does this often, just shop somewhere else. A couple of times she told me she wanted me to take them to court. For a couple of dollars? Even if we won and got triple damages, we'd get $6 and pay the lawyer, what? $2000? Even if we could do it without a lawyer, at the very least I'd have to take a day off work to go to court. Then she'd get all angry and upset that I wasn't willing to make a big fight over this.
And then, just recently, it hit me. I suddenly think I understand what it was all about. I don't think she was really all that worried about the $2 either. It was the principle. She wanted me to fight for her, to protect her. And I wouldn't. Despite all her feminist talk about how she could do it all on her own, she was as tough as any man, etc, she still wanted her husband to defend her and protect her ... and I failed. Worse than failing, I didn't even try.
If I had it all to do over again, I'm not sure how I'd handle it. I still wouldn't bring a lawsuit over $2. I can't imagine that a judge would look kindly on such a suit. I really wouldn't want to go to a store and demand to see the manager and yell and scream over $2. Aside from it being a waste of time, I'd feel like an idiot. Maybe it would just be a matter of explaining why differently. I'd certainly be more likely to take action over something that was borderline. Like if there was a $20 problem, if it was just me I'd probably brush it off as not quite worth worrying about, but if my wife was involved, I'd do something.
© 2013 by Jay Johansen